Do people really live the lives they portray on Facebook? The answer is—partially . . . because most people share selectively. For example, have you ever posted something on Facebook then checked back later to see how many people “liked” your post? If you have, don´t worry, you are in good company. For most people, Facebook sharing is not selfish, it is social. That is why we call it social media.
Facebook is a place where users share life´s most precious moments: a baby´s first steps, a spectacular sunset, and, depending on their level of transparency, that delectable slice of chocolate cake they ordered after lunch. All three of those examples, by the way, are destined to be very well “liked.”
Unlike narcissistic posters, whose glamor shot selfies and promotional status updates are all about them, many posters are motivated by the anticipation of the way others will respond to them. Some people post photos of themselves at their worst—in a hospital bed after surgery, or without makeup after a workout—situations that showcase not vanity, but humanity. Sharing areas of vulnerability often generates the largest outpouring of support.
When it comes to sharing good news, many Facebook users post not out of arrogance, but in search of affirmation.
In a study entitled “Are you happy for me . . . on Facebook?,” Anne L. Zell and Lisa Moeller (2018) sought to extend the phenomenon known as capitalization, defined as the “social sharing of positive events,” to an online context.[i] Capitalization has been shown to enhance well-being and relational intimacy, and elevated mood is increased when positive events are shared with an audience that is enthusiastic, versus disinterested or negative.
Zell and Moeller found that receiving comments and likes on Facebook personal status updates was associated with improved self-esteem and happiness, as well as the perception that one´s Facebook community was interested in the good news.
They also found that status updates that generated more responses were viewed as more important and positive, and were more memorable.
Likes Versus Comments: What Makes Us Feel Better?
How long does it take to click the “Like” button on Facebook? Less than a second. Yet this quick validating measure demonstrates social support for the poster. Zell and Moeller found that the amount of likes, even more than the number of comments, operated as a measure of “social proof” leading posters to view their status update as more important, positive, memorable, and satisfying in terms of the response received.
They also found that the number of comments received, as opposed to the number of likes, was linked to posters´ beliefs that their Facebook community cares about them and is interested in the good news they share. They note this is consistent with prior research indicating that posters feel closer to people who post comments and messages, rather than likes.
So that explains the response, other research has focused on the motivations behind posting.
Does Taking Selfies Make You Selfish or Self-Confident?
Jessica L. McCain et al. (2016) examined the link between narcissism and selfies, as well as the motivation behind selfie taking.[ii] In addition to their findings about narcissism, they also found that self-esteem was unrelated to selfie taking. The most significant finding in this respect was that self-esteem was linked to lack of negative affect when taking selfies.
Other research also failed to find a link between self-esteem and selfie taking. Agnieszka Sorokowska et al. (2016) in “Selfies and personality,” failed to find a relationship between self-esteem and selfie posting behavior among women, and found only a slight correlation among men—in their own selfies posted on Facebook.
Instead, Sorokowska et al. found the frequency of selfie posting behavior in both genders was linked with extraversion and social exhibitionism. This was not surprising. The researchers note that exhibitionists are inspired by the presence of an audience, making social media an ideal venue within which to share personal information and photos. They also note that extraverts are more socially active, so they might post more selfies to keep their friends up to date, and are also more likely to be on social media to begin with.
Everything in Moderation: Post Responsibly
Like anything else, sharing our lives online should be done with discipline, and good judgment. In a digital wild west populated by virtual personalities of all shapes, and sizes, all posters should proceed with caution.
Among “friends,” Facebook sharing is ideally a blessing not a curse. People who respect boundaries and post responsibly often have more friends than they can count.